The Map Is The Territory

Submitted into Contest #124 in response to: Start your story with someone trying to read a map.... view prompt


Speculative Fiction Suspense

He was a strange-looking man with an even stranger agenda, often spending his days interrogating well-meaning pedestrians on the street. Do you believe in God? He asked. Me? Well, I’m not sure. I’ve never given it a good thought. Do you believe in God? He asked again, refusing any answer besides a clear yes or no. I believe in something, maybe not God, but something.

Many were frightened to interact with the man due to his intimidating physical stature; he was shaped like a large and grotesque beetle; he even embodied the mannerisms of one, often crawling underneath chairs and benches, clawing his nails at the asphalt in search of something. That something? Nobody knew.

He carried a large leather bag filled with papers and pencils. When forcefully interviewing people, he gets up real close to them, as if counting the pores on their forehead. Most of the time he's not even listening, only watching with his beady black eyes: seeing the way they speak, the way words come out of their mouths, the inflections and so forth. He claimed to be making a map of sorts, a map that was no different from the city. In order to make a map of the city, he had to make sure nothing changed. When there was news of a new building development, he protested and planted himself on top of the building site. Kill me, kill me now! His theatrics postponed construction by only a few days. Eventually he got bored and left, not being seen for months after. It wasn't clear where he went, but when he decided to return he went right back to his old program.

He carried on interviewing good people on philosophical views they didn’t have. Do you believe the map is the territory? Excuse me sir, but I’m in a rush. He knew how to use his body to get what he wanted. He stood at the exit, blocking the poor man from leaving the store without first answering his question. Do you believe the map is the territory? Sir, I have no clue what you're talking about. He got up closer, a vein on the left side of neck pulsating with an alien blue-green liquid. The business man looked up and saw a forest growing from within his nostrils, filled with succulent and ripe fruits- it made no sense. The map is the representation of the world; the world is itself. Do you think the map and the world are any different? They’re clearly different, now leave me alone. He took two steps back. There was a small opening through the door that the poor man considered running through, but every imaginary simulation of running out led to death. So you believe the map isn’t the territory - Your name is Klein, correct? He flipped through his papers until he found a file titled Klein Horowitz and then started reading off disparate events from his life. When you were 7 years old you saw your mother cheat on your father with the handyman and you watched her keep that lie all the way to your fathers grave. Who do you think you are! The poor man shouted. Move out of my way! He walked forward but was halted by the man's stone body; his body felt inhumanly cold, as if there was a glacier hidden underneath his coat. He continued reading from the list: On your 18th birthday you made a wish, one that never came true. You wished to be free, yet here you are. A slave to the world. This is ridiculous! In a few seconds a woman with long black hair reaching down to her hips will walk past you. She will remind you of someone, but that person hasn’t been in your life for years. Later tonight, you will masturbate to the image of the girl as your children are asleep in the adjacent room. You are a sick person! I’ve had enough! The man was ready to make a run for it, until, like clockwork, the woman with long black hair emerged from his peripheral view. Memories involuntarily rushed through his mind. Elizabeth, his first love. She would always say the world was unfair. He never knew what she meant. Will you come with me to the old barn during the full moon? Why? So we may leave this world in peace, together. She went alone that night. After the woman was no longer in sight, he fell down on his knees and started crying. What do you want from me? The man jotted down some notes and when the poor man looked up, he was no longer there.

There’s a legend that Mr. Beetle - that’s what we shall call him - was once a promising young Philosopher in a branch of Philosophy known as Metaphysics. As he dove deeper into his studies, he found an incongruence in the world; a missing piece that made it un-whole. He became increasingly unhinged after that discovery. It’s hard to believe, but there was once a time that Mr. Beetle was a handsome and sporty young man: captain of the rowing team and enviably suave with women. After discovering that there was a gap in the world, things changed. He was skeptical of his professor's ostensible good-nature. He left his room less frequently and no longer attended his lectures. He was like a ghost on the campus.

Mr. Beetle's body transformed: his stomach bloated into a hard shell, filled with a gaseous confusion. He no longer saw the world as a garden blooming with undiscovered possibilities. It was a lie. A charade, as he said. He felt like a puppet in the Marionette Theater, no longer in control of his fate, but naively moving along to orchestrated strings dangling from the heavens. The gap punctured a hole in his conception of the world, and with the foundation unsound, everything came crashing downward. Nobody knew what he meant. A gap? What do you mean? The professor listened to him in his new disfigured form, hardly recognizing him compared to the brilliant student he was before. He stood in his office reciting an argument he crafted proving world's false-nature. The world, Professor; it isn't real. His professor had heard this argument thousands of times before, most often coming from his naive undergraduate students. Surely it’s real, as how else would we be having this conversation? And even if it wasn’t, what difference would that make? No Professor, you’re not understanding me. There’s a gap. He went to the professors desk and began scribbling some lines on a piece of paper. The Professor didn’t know if he should be alarmed by his irritable behavior. He felt a strange presence in him, something ominous that evoked primal fear and caused him to freeze up. Look, pointing at the paper: it was a poorly drawn picture of him and the professor standing beside each other. Prove to me that we are different from those drawings. He had no choice but to play along. Ah, yes, you bring up an excellent question! Professor, do not play dumb. He drew a silver pistol from his coat pocket and pointed it at his skull. Look at the image again: it now included a gun being pointed at the drawing of him. There’s a gap professor; this is a work of fiction. I could shoot you right now and it wouldn't make a difference. The professor, in a split-decision, abandoned his intuitions about the world, grabbed the paper and tore it up. And just like that, Mr. Beetle vanished from that particular existence. 

December 16, 2021 21:24

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